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Religious allies urged to keep fighting

New York Teacher

UFT President Michael Mulgrew tells faith-based leaders he is "invigorated to fight the battles ahead" on behalf of public education.

Keynote speaker Rev. M. Ziddie Hamatheite shares moving anecdotes about his experiences at public schools with the audience.

Faith and community leaders joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew at the union’s seventh annual faith-based breakfast for a discussion of the value of public schools and how to protect them in the face of efforts to privatize education.

Mulgrew told the assembled leaders that the current administration in Washington, D.C., announced a budget plan that slashes funding for public schools and the disadvantaged students they support at the same time as it boosts funding for its school privatization agenda.

“There are tough issues in front of us, but I tell you, don’t get down. How often do you get to have a truly righteous fight?” he asked at the event at UFT headquarters on March 16.

Mulgrew thanked the faith and community leaders for supporting the introduction of a millionaire’s tax in New York City in 2009 and asked them to pitch in again to urge state lawmakers to extend and expand the tax, which provides a vital funding stream for public education. He also asked for their help in encouraging New Yorkers to vote against holding a state constitutional convention when the question appears on the November ballot.

Anthony Harmon, the union’s director of parent and community outreach and the organizer of the breakfast, shared ways that faith-based leaders can support the union’s #PublicSchoolProud campaign. He showed a video produced by the AFT exploring the origins of the “school choice” voucher movement in efforts by southern states to maintain segregated schools in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education court ruling in 1954.

Rev. David Ball of Brooklyn’s Union United Methodist Church, whose church holds an annual educators’ appreciation celebration, told an inspirational story of how his teachers found him on the street and got him back into school after he had dropped out of middle school and joined a gang.

“I credit my public school teachers with saving my life,” Ball said.

Rev. M. Ziddie Hamatheite of Brooklyn’s Wayside Baptist Church, another speaker at the breakfast, shared his experiences as a former 3rd-grade and attendance teacher helping at-risk students. “When you empower students with the love you share, they will empower you,” he said.

The Rev. Charles Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children, in closing remarks, shared how partnerships between the faith-based community and the public school community in his state have helped children and public schools. He also challenged the clergy assembled to explore starting a chapter in New York City as a way to become advocates for all public schoolchildren.

“We blocked a voucher policy in Texas,” Johnson said. This is what you can accomplish “when you connect everyone with public schools and a faith-based community.”

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